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The best way to make business networking work for you

September 18, 2015

Most small business owners have an opinion on networking. For every person who enjoys and values it – you’ll find another who visibly shudders at the mere mention of the word.

But why does networking seem to polarise small business owners? Is it a massive untapped opportunity, or is it an uncomfortable evening in the company of strangers and cocktail sausages?

Hijacked by the hard-sell

The main problem with networking is that it’s been hijacked by the hard-sell. If you’ve been at an organised networking event, you’re sure to have been collared by somebody employing the ‘double-glazing salesman’ approach.

And no matter, how many times you say, “No” they just don’t stop. So you wait for your chance to make your dash for the exit, and away you go, scarred by the experience and vowing never to network again.

What makes it worse is that the guys employing the hard-sell are completely oblivious to the damage they’re causing.

They measure their success solely in the number of sales and leads they manage to garner – and don’t stop to think about what networking really is.

If only people used networking to… well… network!

Turn your expectations on their head

At any given networking event the chances of you finding your ideal customer within the room is remote. But the chances of you being able to help each other to find customers is far bigger.

If you are expecting to come away from a networking event with a handful of ready-made sales and a long list of ‘leads’ you are going to be disappointed. You are far more likely to enjoy the experience and build long-term benefits for your business if you turn your expectations on their head.

Instead of thinking,

How many sales can I make?‘ think,

How many sales can I make for OTHER people?

To do this you’ll need to ask lots of questions and get your head around other businesses. When you meet others you’ll soon find that the genuine interest you’re showing in their business will help them to relax and open up to you.

The pre-prepared elevator pitch will be forgotten and you’ll have a real conversation about real issues. You might learn that they’re not happy with their accountant or are looking for a web designer to build their new website.

And this is your cue to ride to the rescue and show the true benefits of networking.

The real value of networking

Give them the name of an accountant or web designer from your network. In an instant you’ve helped to connect two people – and all without a hint of ‘selling’

Suddenly, with this simple change of approach you’ve added another person to your network and put a smile on two faces – actually three if you include your own!

Both of these contacts will feel indebted to you and will be far more likely to ‘return the favour’ in the future.

As your list of contacts grows, you’ll find it easier to connect people within your network. Before too long you’ll find that you’re well-connected and have generated a huge amount of goodwill within your network.

An army of ambassadors for you and your business

You will have created an army of ambassadors, all primed and waiting to help you and your business.

And this is the real benefit of networking.

So, the next time you are attending a networking event put the selling to one-side and try this approach.

If enough of us take this approach to networking, we just might be able to reclaim it from the hard-sell. All small business owners can then begin to enjoy these events again and reap the long-term benefits they offer.

More on networking

You will find more tips on networking in these guides;

And for help and ideas on how to network and spread the word about your business through social media try these;